Back in the summer of 2002, I tried unsuccessfully to be selected as the Labour Party candidate for the South Wales constituency of Ogmore, named after the former mining valley of the same name. Had it been down to the local members, I would probably have been fine, but as it was the final say was in the gift of a man called Charles Clarke, who was then Chairman of the Labour Party and went on to become Home Secretary.
Now Clarke was a great supporter of Tony Blair, and as such did not like Gordon Brown, especially as Gordon didn’t like Tony and Tony didn’t particularly like Gordon. To cut a long and not particularly interesting story short Clarke ceased to be Home Secretary under Brown and became an increasingly embittered and truculent individual, who could always be relied up to expostulate biliously at mention of the name of the Prime Minister. Which was pretty rich really, as Clarke had blocked me from being a candidate because I was deemed “off message”, and didn’t agree with all of the Government’s policies. Clarke lost his seat at the General Election, and is now busy cutting lawns or feeding baby chicken to lizards for all I care.
But I remember appearing in front of him, and a panel of Party worthies in Bridgend. Clarke wanted to know where I stood on the invasion of Afghanistan, which had just happened. Foolishly for the immediate purpose of being selected – but ultimately I would argue, with spectacular foresight – I said that invading Afghanistan was a mistake, that in the longer run it would be a disaster and that history showed that no foreign power – including Britain in the 1890s – had ever subjugated the Afghans for any real period of time.
I thought about this the other day when on an altogether much bigger canvass, General Stanley Chrystal was hauled before President Obama and dismissed for frankly making an ass of himself in Rolling Stone magazine. For his departure, ignoring all of the silly tittle tattle that is the stock in trade of much of the media, appeared to underline the seeming futility of the war in Afghanistan, now in its eleventh year. If Eleven years of fighting have cost the British 11 Billion Pounds, heaven knows how much it has cost the United States.
Yesterday, after another four British soldiers lost their lives when their armoured carrier crashed into a ravine and they drowned, the new Prime Minister, David Cameron appeared on the television. Cameron has the same expression, whether opening a super market, or bigging up our ‘brave soldiers’, but I am sure he is sincere about the latter. It’s just that I couldn’t bring myself to believe him as he talked of this year “being the defining year, the most important yet”, unless of course what he is really saying is that this will be the last year for Britain in Afghanistan, unless there is some miraculous breakthrough. For each year has been the “defining year, the most important yet”
But he also said that the war in Afghanistan was crucial in the global fight against terrorism, something that has also been mimicked by the Labour Party. Of course, most sane and rational people know this to be hyperbole. The Taliban may well be the living embodiment of medieval obscurantism, brutal and ignorant, but it is difficult to see them at the forefront of some global terrorist front.
The real front line against terrorism is more likely the bad lands of Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, where Western armies are unlikely to be sent. Tackling terrorism and the causes of terrorism in places like this surely has to be the real imperative.
It is surely time to start packing our bags in Afghanistan.